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Police Report Two Israelis Killed in West Bank

Two Israelis were killed Thursday in a Palestinian attack in the West Bank city of Hebron, Israeli police sources said.

The Israeli military said it had no information about the incident.

Last month, 12 Israeli soldiers and security guards were killed in an ambush after settlers returned from prayers at a holy site in Hebron to a nearby Jewish settlement.

Israeli rescue services said Thursday they were treating two casualties near the same area.

Meanwhile, Israeli soldiers shot and killed five Palestinians who apparently tried to climb over the tall barbed-wire fence between Gaza and Israel, the military said Thursday. No weapons were found near the bodies.

Elsewhere in Gaza, soldiers killed an armed Palestinian trying attack a Jewish settlement. A radical PLO faction, the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, claimed responsibility for the failed infiltration.

Also Thursday, an Israeli court ruled that it has the right to try Marwan Barghouti, a leader of the Palestinian uprising and the highest-ranking Palestinian official in Israeli custody.

The five Palestinians were killed Wednesday. The military said soldiers saw five suspicious figures near the border fence, in an area where Palestinians are barred from entering. Soldiers fired at the five, and their bodies were found Thursday morning, the army said. Ladders were found near the bodies, but no weapons.

The identities of the dead were not immediately known.

The impoverished Gaza Strip is surrounded by a tall barbed-wire fence to keep militants out of Israel. Palestinian laborers trying to sneak into Israel to find work sometimes try to cut through or climb over the fence.

Unemployment is above 50 percent in Gaza, and menial jobs in Israel were a mainstay of Gaza's economy before Israeli security closures forced Palestinian laborers to stay home.

In the settlement attack, two Palestinians approached the Gush Katif settlement bloc before dawn, armed with automatic rifles, said an Israeli army commander, Lt. Col. Avi Oved.

One of the attackers was cutting the perimeter fence, Oved said. "The forces fired on him and killed him ... The other one was apparently behind and managed to flee," he said. "Their goal was definitely to get into one of the settlements."

Palestinian militants have often targeted Jewish settlements and settlers in the West Bank and Gaza Strip in 26 months of fighting. Palestinians consider the settlements an obstacle to their goal of establishing a state in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, lands Israel captured in the 1967 Middle East war.

In Tel Aviv, the District Court ruled that it has jurisdiction in the case against Barghouti, leader of Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat's Fatah movement in the West Bank. The defense argued that Barghouti has immunity as a Palestinian legislator and that Israeli forces snatched him illegally from a West Bank home eight months ago.

Barghouti has said he should be treated as a prisoner of war, not a criminal suspect. Israel says Barghouti helped finance the Al Aqsa Martyrs' Brigades, a militia linked to Fatah. It has accused him of involvement in attacks that killed 26 Israelis.

Meanwhile, the latest opinion polls showed the hardline Likud party, led by Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, holding a wide lead over the opposition Labor Party before a Jan. 28 general election.

According to the Dialogue research company poll published in the Haaretz newspaper Thursday, Likud will get 41 seats in the 120-member parliament, more than double the 19 seats it currently holds.

The poll forecast that Labor would win 21 seats in the parliament, a drop from its current 26 spots. The poll questioned 597 eligible Israeli voters, and its margin of error was 4 percentage points.

Labor is led by Amram Mitzna, a dovish former general who has said that if elected prime minister, he will immediately dismantle Jewish settlements in the Gaza Strip and restart long-stalled peace talks.

Sharon refuses to negotiate with the Palestinians until there is a total cessation of violence. He dismisses any chance of talking to Yasser Arafat.